The 2014-15 trade season has concluded and while Monday came and went without a big shocker or true blockbuster deal, there has certainly been a lot of big names that have been moved prior to deadline day. With that in mind, I think it would be wrong to measure a team's success or failure based on what they did on March 2. Instead, my goal is to take into context everything a team has done from a trade perspective over the 2014-15 campaign when trying to single out the winners and losers.
The other thing you're going to find below is that a greater emphasis was placed on winners than losers. That's because, really, there wasn't that much in the way of losers this year. The majority of the trades that happened were relatively simple present vs. future deals and that consequently made a lot of sense for both sides. Teams largely didn't engage in blatantly poor scenarios such as mortgaging their future by trading prospects or picks in the name of simply eking into the playoffs.
Part of the reason for that likely is the perceived value of top picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and uncertainty regarding the 2015-16 cap ceiling. Those factors encouraged teams to stay conservative, which led to fewer missteps.
With that in mind, suggesting there was an equal number of losers compared to winners doesn't align to my opinion on the matter.
Tanking is a touchy subject. A lot of fans can certainly get behind the concept, but players hate the implication that they're not trying their hardest. Ultimately, I feel this is where there's sometimes a disconnect. Tanking isn't a question of whether or not the players are trying to win, it's a question of whether or not a general manager is deliberately weakening his squad in the hopes of securing a superior draft position.
Even that isn't a black and white issue though. The Sabres have often been accused of tanking this season in the hopes of getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as the team that finishes in 30th place is guaranteed one of them. That talk only intensified when they dealt netminder Jhonas Enroth on Feb. 11 and then Michal Neuvirth on Monday to dramatically weaken their goaltending, which had been one of the few strong points of this team.
But even if you strongly believe that tanking is a sin, was Sabres GM Tim Murray wrong to make those moves? I would argue he wasn't because even if the potential benefits and moral implications of tanking are taken off the table, those deals - and arguably every trade Murray has made this season - has made sense for Buffalo. The Sabres have long since been out of the playoff race and neither Enroth nor Neuvirth were guaranteed to return as they're both eligible to become free agents at the end of this summer. So why shouldn't the Sabres secure what they can for them rather than risk losing their goaltenders for nothing over the summer?
Murray's mandate this season was to get draft picks, prospects, and young players as the team focuses on the future. In that regard, he has been very successful.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto's failure since the start of the salary cap era hasn't been due to an unwillingness to spend money. That might be an obvious statement, but it needs to be emphasized because then the question has to be asked: Why is it that the Chicago Blackhawks are consistently and vastly superior to the Toronto Maple Leafs when they are both willing to spend to the ceiling? Plenty of reasons, but what it boils down to is that Chicago has been more efficient when it comes to getting bang for its buck.
The question of whether or not a player is good is an archaic one as each player's value has to be measured against his cap hit and in that regard, you can't do much worse than David Clarkson. He's a gritty third-liner getting paid like a decent first-liner and that will only get worse as he ages. He'll turn 31 years old on March 31 and will remain under contract through 2019-20. The fact that Toronto was able to get rid of that anchor was huge. Given that they can put the player going their way, Nathan Horton, on the long-term injured reserve list, the Maple Leafs have essentially gained $5.25 million annually in cap space for the next five campaigns after this one.
In a few years, when Toronto has potentially moved past its current transitional phase, that extra space could prove to be the difference between success and failure.
Of course, that's assuming the Maple Leafs will be more efficient with their cap space in the future, which is admittedly not a foregone conclusion given that they handed David Clarkson that contract despite the fact that it was ill-advised from the start.
Ducks GM Bob Murray complained about the price of rentals last week and he managed to sidestep that issue in his acquisition of James Wisniewski and a 2015 third-round pick in exchange for William Karlsson, Rene Bourque, and a 2015 second-round selection.
That's a pretty reasonable price for a great offensive defenseman that's capable of logging top-two minutes. Wisniewski's $5.5 million annual salary through the 2016-17 campaign doesn't make him a bargain from a cap perspective, but he's not overpriced either. He certainly bolsters Anaheim's defense during a period where Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are in their prime and Anaheim has a shot at competing for the Stanley Cup.
Especially given some of the sacrifices other teams had to make to get even short-term additions, it's hard to look at the Ducks as anything but big winners thanks to that trade.
The Flyers got a lot of value out of defensemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen in separate trades with Tampa Bay and Chicago respectively. In total, Philadelphia got first, second, third, and fourth (conditional) round picks along with blueliner Radko Gudas for the two veteran defensemen.
It had to be tough for Philadelphia to see Timonen go in particular, but given that their odds of even squeaking into the playoffs aren't the good, GM Ron Hextall was right to part ways with the 39-year-old and should be credited for getting a fair amount in exchange for a player who only made his season debut on Monday.
Philadelphia has endured a few rough years now and it might take a little while before the franchise re-emerges as a major contender, but these two trades are a great step in that direction.
New York Rangers
The Rangers love to make a big splash in the free agent and trade markets and this year has been no exception. They got the best player exchanged in Keith Yandle, who was acquired along with Chris Summers and a 2016 fourth-round pick from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for John Moore, Anthony Duclair, a 2015 second-rounder, and a 2016 first-round pick.
The Rangers definitely paid a very high price for Yandle, but they're still getting a top-tier offensive defenseman for both this season and the 2015-16 campaign. The fact that Arizona is picking up half of his remaining cap hit is huge as it means he'll only cost the Rangers $2.65 million in cap space for an entire season's worth of work in 2015-16. Having that kind of arrangement provides New York with a big short-term edge over its competition.
The Rangers are making a substantial sacrifice and there are many that are justifiably criticizing them as a result. However, when I look at the Rangers, I see a team in win-now mode with a legitimate shot of claiming the Stanley Cup either this year or next season. This isn't the time for the Rangers to be taking half measures, this is the time for them to go all in and that's exactly what they've done.
Minnesota Wild - If you were to pick a single snub from my top-five list, it would have to be Minnesota. Getting Devan Dubnyk for a third-round pick has proven to be a steal for the Wild.
Chicago Blackhawks - They paid a big price, but their acquisitions of Timonen and Antoine Vermette make them an imposing team going into the playoffs even without Patrick Kane (left clavicle fracture).
Calgary Flames - They hold a playoff spot and still traded Curtis Glencross for picks. Given that Mark Giordano (torn biceps) is done for the season though, they had to realize that this likely wouldn't be their year. They're still a young team and it took courage to put an emphasis on the future despite the allure that comes with competing for a playoff spot. Although to be fair, the fact that Glencross felt he was being underutilized was likely a factor too.
Arizona Coyotes - Similar to Buffalo, the Coyotes traded off a number of assets in an effort to build for the future. I made mention to the significant sacrifice the Rangers had to make in order to get Yandle and the flip side is that Arizona got a great return for the defenseman.
They didn't make a trade in 2014-15. They are a young team and full of players with term left on their contract - or at least are pending restricted free agents as opposed to upcoming UFAs - but for Ottawa to sit on its hands is eyebrow-raising.
Ottawa is almost certain to miss the playoffs, but not by enough to have a good shot at winning the McDavid sweepstakes. By trading away assets for picks, they would have both put themselves in a better position to win the draft lottery and bolstered their future.
Again though, it's hard to be too critical of Ottawa given that they're already young and without significant pending unrestricted free agents.
San Jose Sharks
What exactly are the Sharks doing? Are they a rebuilding team? Their rhetoric since last summer largely suggests that they are at least focused on the future, but their aging core is still intact. Are they in win-now mode? Obviously not given their 31-25-8 record and lack of noteworthy additions.
San Jose seems to want to pull off a Detroit Red Wings-styled transition where they move from the old guard to the new one without going through the painful process of a true rebuild. Maybe in hindsight that will prove to be the way to go, but right now the Sharks look like they're in the worst place a team can be: limbo.
I have mixed feelings about this one. Strictly speaking, I don't think the Oilers got a bad return in their trades. At the same time, I have to wonder if it was really in their best interests to dump Jeff Petry for another draft pick rather than re-sign him. We're talking about a defenseman that's 27 years old, so it's not as if he can't factor into Edmonton's long-term plans.
Building for the future is something I can typically get behind, but Edmonton hasn't made the playoffs since 2006. So at what point does the team commit itself to breaking the cycle?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, at 21, is the third-highest tenured player on the team when it comes to games with Edmonton. That shouldn't be the case this late into the Oilers' rebuild.
The Bruins, like the San Jose Sharks, are another team that's stuck in limbo. They are currently in a playoff position and aren't that far removed from having postseason success, so it would have been justified in my mind if Boston had tried to bolster its roster via the trade market. The Bruins didn't do that though, nor did they slide into a seller's role.
They did get Brett Connolly from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for two second-round picks, which is interesting, but in the short-term Connolly isn't likely to be a major factor and I see this trade as a tossup in the long run as far as who the winner is.